The United States and Taliban on Saturday signed a historic peace deal to end the 18-year-long confrontation in Afghanistan. The signing was held in Doha of Qatar between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and representatives of the Taliban.
The new deal would see the two sides agree to the withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Afghanistan in return for insurgent guarantees. US aims to withdraw all forces "within 14 months" as per the declaration. Meanwhile, Afghanistan government will have to release Taliban insurgents held in captivity. Pompeo urged Taliban to "keep your promises to cut ties with Al-Qaeda."
Addressing the ceremony, Pompeo said Afghan government in the past have failed because they were not inclusive. Victory for Afghans can only be achieved when they can live in peace and for US when Americans and its allies doesnt have live in fear of another terror attack.""
While the details of the deal are yet to be made public, the position of the Afghan government, which has been excluded from direct US-Taliban talks, remains unclear and the country is gripped by a fresh political crisis amid contested election results. The deal comes after over a year of dialogue between the two sides, marred by back and forth negotiations and cancellations. "There's been so much speculation about the contents of the deal... we know the broad outlines but it's not even clear whether the full terms of the deal will be made public," AFP quoted Andrew Watkins, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group consultancy as saying.
Kabul had sent a six-person task force to the Qatari capital to make initial contact with the Taliban political office, established in 2013.
The inking of the deal will come after a week-long, partial truce that has mostly held across Afghanistan aimed at building confidence between the warring parties and showing the Taliban can control their forces. While isolated attacks have continued in rural areas, Pompeo said Tuesday that the truce period was "working".
It is to be noted that the US, which currently has between 12,000 and 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, could draw that number down to 8,600 within months of the agreement being signed. The development is being timed with President Trump's campaign for a second term in the White House. During the 2016 presidential bid, trump had called for cutting down the number of troops stationed overseas especially in Afghanistan, known as the graveyard of empires. However, further reductions would depend on the Taliban's engagement with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, whom they have until now dismissed as a "US-backed puppet."
Afghan policemen keeps watch at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan. (REUTERS)
The deal is a result of three years of hard negotiations between the two sides over the civil-war torn country where the Taliban portrayed to have an upper hand. Led by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US, instead of pushing the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government jumped into the fray as its policy switched under the Trump presidency. Reports suggest that Pakistan also played a pivotal role in bringing the Taliban to the table amid "growing Indian presence in Afghanistan".
India in the midst
Days after President Trump visited India and met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Qatar invited India to be in Doha during the signing. Indian Ambassador to Qatar represented India in the ceremony as the peace deal holds strategic and geopolitical implications for the country, which has invested in Afghanistan. "India's policy is to support all opportunities that can bring peace, stability and end violence in Afghanistan," MEA said on signing of the deal.
The deal also holds significance in terms of the strained relations with Pakistan which has interests in the region.
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Friday reached Kabul to convey India's support to the Afghan government ahead of deal signing. "India remains committed to economic and human resource development partnership with Afghanistan. Foreign Secretary reiterated India’s support for Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process which results in enduring and inclusive peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. They agreed that sustainable peace, stability, and prosperity in Afghanistan requires cessation of external support for terrorism and commitment to regional connectivity and integration," MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
"We welcome the Doha Accord signed between US & the Taliban.This is the start of a peace & reconciliation process to end decades of war & suffering of the Afghan people. I have always maintained that a pol solution, no matter how complex, is the only meaningful path to peace," Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said.
In this 2011 picture, US Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district. Reuters
The Taliban's sheltering of Al-Qaeda was the main reason for the US invasion following the deadly 9/11 attacks. The conflict has cost the US taxpayer more than $1 trillion in military and rebuilding costs since the US-led invasion of 2001.